We had an inkling that the traffic statistics for 2021 would be bad. In November last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published data for the first half of that year, showing the greatest ever six-month rise in road fatalities since people kept records. On Tuesday, the other shoe dropped, with NHTSA’s estimate of the entire year’s toll: 42,915 people killed in crashes, an increase of 10.8 percent compared to 2020.
The rise in road deaths began with the pandemic in 2020. Despite a big reduction in the number of miles we drove, road deaths went up that year—8 percent year-over-year, after a period of gently declining traffic fatalities. Sadly things haven’t gotten better.
Most kinds of driving became more dangerous last year. Deaths on rural interstates and urban arterial roads increased by 15 percent. And local and urban collector road deaths went up by 20 percent, belying the idea of “Vision Zero”. Both daytime and nighttime deaths went up by 11 percent compared to 2020, with weekends seeing a slightly larger increase than weekdays (11 percent versus 10 percent).